Ashley vs Cowgill: Has Sports Direct boss had the last laugh in retail rivalry?
NEWS of Mike Ashley’s departure from Frasers also signals the end of one of retail’s most tempestuous rivalries, after JD Sports’ boss Peter Cowgill exited his own sportswear giant earlier
After decades of high street tussle, the two retail titans have now both relinquished their roles behind two of the country’s largest athleisure brands.
A comparison between the two heavyweights is “inevitable”, retail expert and former head of buying for Selfridges Wizz Selvey told City A.M.
Certainly, Ashley is leaving on a high, with Frasers having been able to distance itself away from negative Covid-era headlines about Sports Direct’s treatment of workers and overseening the retailer’s diversification of its portfolio in recent months.
Meanwhile Cowgill, who quietly drove JD Sports to massive global growth and raised its brand profile to the point there were queues outside the door when they opened in New York’s Times Square, left in the middle of a corporate governance review after being given a regulator slap on the wrist after meeting a rival in a car park amid takeover negotiations.
“In an uncertain retail climate (Ashley) has proven substantial growth through the reassortment of the portfolio of brands,” Selvey explains.
Ashley’s step back will also allow Murray a chance to deliver his own vision for the retailer, following a swathe of takeovers including the fast fashion firm Missguided.
“Fresh eyes on an established business may provide further opportunities for the group, particularly when new challenges are impacting the economic climate,” Selvey said.
While Ashley has departed the firm with promises that he is still “100 per cent” dedicated to the brand, Cowgill stood down after a series of tricky bust-ups with the Competition and Markets Authority led to boardroom disagreements.
What’s next for the duo? “I imagine both have more to achieve in retail,” Selvey said.